by Jana Ross, Intern
My name is Jana Ross and I am a summer 2022 intern at the Amistad Research Center. Working at the Amistad has revealed to me the importance of archival work, especially in preserving the work of Black women. I am helping to process the donated collection of writer Alexis De Veaux’s papers, delving into correspondence, manuscripts, writings, photographs, ephemera and more, and am quickly learning the necessity of this work.
Viewing and handling these documents provides me with insight not only to her life, but mine as well. Through her work, I have reflected on my creative and intellectual pursuits, informed by her words that are guided by community, ancestral guidance, liberation and many other values I hold close to my heart. Reading her letters and greeting cards urges me toward centering love, friendship, self-empowerment and spiritual expansion—a centering that is usually difficult to maintain. Her work and life, informed by the specific junction of being a Black lesbian woman, provides a landscape of ideas, feelings and thought necessary for my healing. Before this internship, I had not heard of De Veaux; now I am influenced by her words and deeply curious about her life and work.
In fact, before this summer I really did not understand archival work. I was intrigued by an in-class assignment from my professor, Dr. Mali Collins, which was introduced by a quick anecdote of her experience as an archive’s intern. She uncovered the writings of Alice Dunbar Nelson, preserved through Nelson’s journals, clippings, scrapbooks and other saved materials. I was amazed; my professor actively worked to collect and arrange for future readers the words of Nelson, who had the forethought to preserve her own writing. I found beauty and purpose in people committing themselves to understanding and showcasing the importance of saving artifacts and presenting those artifacts to best reveal the insight within them. I never realized that could be a job! My teacher, an accomplished writer herself, pored over the writings of the acclaimed poet. I was moved by the tradition of Black women dedicating their time and words to one another, continuing a form of communication across generations. I wondered if there was similar work to which I could contribute.
After applying to many internships, I was selected by the Amistad Research Center, though some turbulence in my life made me question if I could accept this opportunity. I am grateful I did; I have learned a lot, met impressive and passionate people, and created connections at the Amistad.
There are other, more personal, connections I have here. When I told my Auntie Lolita Cherrie I wanted to work for the Amistad, she revealed the many research visits she has made to the Amistad over the years. She, a jewel of New Orleans’ history, genealogy and cultural knowledge, encouraged me to apply. A cousin also revealed to me that they worked at the Amistad, imparting valuable advice that greatly helped to alleviate my anxiety at starting a new internship. Most surprising to me is coming across another relative’s name within the De Veaux papers: Sharon Bridgforth, my auntie who is a remarkable pioneer in Black queer artist activism.
Unexpected connections have been gradually unearthed and rekindled. It has been a reminder of all of the potential connections we carry, uniting us through places, ideas and our social networks. From my professor to my new friends at the Amistad to my own family members, I follow their lead. I hope to nurture my relationships here and continue the work necessary to honor and preserve the legacies held within the Amistad.
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